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bell hooks talks to John Perry Barlow about prana in our on-line world

From the Lion’s Roar archives, a 1995 dialog between digital activist and lyricist John Perry Barlow — who died on February 7, 2018 — and social theorist bell hooks.

John Perry Barlow and bell hooks

Picture by Allan Baillie.

John Perry Barlow: “On paper, you’re my polar reverse [bell hooks: iconoclastic feminist, leading African-American intellectual, progressive Buddhist, self-proclaimed homebody], but I really feel none of that in your presence.”

bell hooks: “I’ve by no means met anybody from Wyoming earlier than [John Perry Barlow: cyber philosopher, retired cattle rancher, world traveler, Grateful Dead lyricist, self-proclaimed Republican]. I sought you out. I needed to listen to your story.”

Love and Sleep

bell hooks: I’m speaking to John Perry Barlow.

John Perry Barlow: Out on the road.

bell hooks: …out ON THE STREET!

John Perry Barlow: I used to be strolling previous a church in Harlem a few month in the past and there was a quote on the sermon board from Proust, of all individuals, saying, “The journey of discovery begins not with new vistas however with having new eyes with which to behold them.”

bell hooks: Malcolm X at all times used to say that we would have liked new eyes. One of many ideas that the majority turns me on inside engaged Buddhism is the concept of what readability is and of what it takes to get clear.

John Perry Barlow: It takes waking up. I believe one of many causes that People at the moment are drawn to Buddhism is as a result of it is a tradition in a stupor. The American stupor, hypnotic, hallucinatory situation, has change into so pervasive that the concept one may get up from it and have readability or vivid imaginative and prescient is extraordinarily enticing. After all, saying it don’t make it so.

bell hooks: Nicely, for me apply makes it so. The apply of mindfulness, the apply of being conscious, takes me nearer to awakeness. I really feel like there may be at all times one thing attempting to tug us again into sleep, that there’s this form of seductive high quality in all of the hedonistic pleasures that pull on us.

John Perry Barlow: The senses virtually exist to boring themselves; it’s as if they wish to discover the potential of area till there’s nothing novel in it. After which fall asleep.

bell hooks: I believe that as a lot as we’re a tradition that’s asleep, we’re a tradition that’s transferring away from love. The capability to like is so tied to with the ability to be awake, to with the ability to transfer out of your self and be with another person in a fashion that isn’t about your want to own them, however to be with them, to be in union and communion.

John Perry Barlow: My deceased lover and I used to brag about how we’d overcome our narcissism by turning into narcissistic about our relationship. And it did really feel that means. I felt a lot much less self-absorbed.

Classes & Intimacy

bell hooks: On this previous yr once I went round to so many faculties and universities, I discovered individuals deeply and profoundly cynical about love. I spent this week re-reading Martin Luther King’s sermon “Energy to Love,” and I used to be considerably saddened by the concept what we bear in mind about him revolves a lot round fantasy and dreaming and hope for the long run, when there was this actual concrete message, notably through the later interval of his life, which was all about love and the rigor of affection.

Not simple love however that love which actually requires of us the willingness to be dissenting voices, the willingness to face alone, the willingness to be remodeled. He’s continually stating, “Be not conformed to this world however be remodeled by the renewing of your thoughts.” It appears to me that the method of renewing ourselves can also be an act of affection.

John Perry Barlow: It appears to me that what we’re right here to do is to study love within the presence of worry.

bell hooks: I’ve been interested by the notion of excellent love as being with out worry, and what which means for us in a world that’s turning into more and more xenophobic, tortured by fundamentalism and nationalism. Even about assembly you—the concept of with the ability to let worry go so you’ll be able to transfer in the direction of one other one who’s not such as you. I’ve by no means met anybody from Wyoming earlier than.

John Perry Barlow: A lot much less a Republican cattle rancher.

bell hooks: After we drop worry, we will draw nearer to individuals, we will draw nearer to the earth, we will draw nearer to all of the heavenly creatures that encompass us.

John Perry Barlow: I used to be simply describing you to somebody by way of the externalities that might find yourself in your curriculum vitae, and the particular person mentioned, she feels like your polar reverse. On paper, you’re my polar reverse and but I really feel none of that in your presence.

bell hooks: I really really feel that my coronary heart was calling me to you. The primary time we had been in the identical room for a chronic time period collectively, I sought you out. I needed to listen to your story.

John Perry Barlow: I felt the identical means.

John Perry Barlow and bell hooks on the cover of Shambhala Sun magazine.bell hooks: And what I see in loads of younger people is that this want to be solely with individuals like themselves and solely to have any belief in reaching out to individuals like themselves. I believe, what sort of magic are they going to overlook in life? What sort of renewals of their beings will they by no means have, in the event that they assume you’ll be able to have some pc printout that claims this particular person has the identical gender as you, the identical race as you, the identical class, and due to this fact they’re secure? I really feel that instinct is so essential to getting past race and sophistication and gender, in order that we will permit ourselves to really feel for and with one other particular person.

John Perry Barlow: I believe that among the many nice errors of the political correctness motion is that it reduces issues to their externalities and avoids the essence. I believe that there’s something about that complete educational, literary, crucial tradition that spawned a standpoint that’s anti-intimate.

bell hooks: A part of it’s that, regardless of how a lot that tradition talks towards it, it stays deeply rooted in mind-body-spirit.

John Perry Barlow: Underlying it’s the perception that in case you say the precise phrases, in case your language is acceptable, then your ideas will essentially observe, with out seeing the nice balancing act that goes on between any effort and that which resists it. On the West Coast now I discover individuals to be in a lamentable situation. I truthfully assume that a lot of them really feel that if they’re cautious about saying “African-American,” then they are often in full denial about the truth that they’re treating individuals like n****rs of their actions and of their unwillingness to open themselves emphatically to the individuals they encounter on the road. Right here in New York, the place individuals are liable to name each other something, there may be an empathic connection between the individuals on the road.

bell hooks: Partly there may be this profound mistrust of these issues that may take us previous race, previous gender. I really feel prefer it’s necessary to grasp the that means of these issues, at the same time as we’re not held captive by them.

Data & Expertise

John Perry Barlow: A lot of what’s critically sick within the American coronary heart of the second has to do with the confusion of knowledge for expertise, and lowering one’s map of the world to the informational. We’re faraway from all the intuitive realities as a result of we’re attempting to expertise them via this mediating and separating company of tv or the media generally. We’re dwelling in extremely desocialized circumstances in our hermetically-sealed two-level ranch-style suburban houses.

bell hooks: I’ve been concerned with a undertaking referred to as “Digital Diaspora,” and loads of what individuals worry about computer systems is that they may merely intensify this privatization and alienation from physique and spirit that you just’re speaking about. Do you see that?

John Perry Barlow: We’ve already been separated by info to an alarming extent. The distinction between info and expertise is that if you’re having an expertise, you’re in real-time contact with the phenomena round you. You’re capable of ask questions with each synapse in your physique of the encompassing circumstances. What I’m hopeful about is that as a result of our on-line world is an interactive medium in a human sense, we’ll be capable of undergo this info-desert and be capable of have one thing like tele-experience. We’ll be capable of expertise one different genuinely, in a very interactive vogue, at a distance.

bell hooks: One of many issues I take into consideration is what it means to be speaking if you’re not conscious of the specifics of who individuals are. You may’t reply to their seems, that are so central to the mechanisms of domination in our society. We choose on the premise of what someone seems like, pores and skin colour, whether or not we expect they’re lovely or not. That area on the Web lets you converse with someone with none of these issues concerned.

John Perry Barlow: There’s one thing problematic right here, and I commute on it on a regular basis. I wish to have a our on-line world that has prana in it. I wish to have a our on-line world the place there’s room for the breath and the spirit.

bell hooks: Nicely, that’s what I haven’t discovered, Barlow.

John Perry Barlow: Nicely, I haven’t both. The central query in my life for the time being is whether or not or not it’s potential to have it there. That’s what I’m actually attempting to determine. Dialogue is not only language. The textual content itself is a minimal portion of the general dialog. The general dialog contains the colour of your pores and skin, and contains the best way I scent, and contains the best way we really feel sitting right here on the stoop with our thighs touching.

It’s not that there’s something notably wholesome about our on-line world in itself, however the best way by which our on-line world breaks down limitations. Our on-line world makes person-to-person interplay more likely in an already fragmented society. The factor that individuals want desperately is random encounter. That’s what group has.

bell hooks: Seeing your pc, it seems like this full of life risk the place something might flash itself on that display screen.

John Perry Barlow: There’s an enormous distinction between the pc as a typewriter or an enormous including machine, and the pc as phone or social area. I verify my e-mail 4 or 5 occasions a day and I invariably get one thing completely sudden from part of the world that I’ve by no means heard of earlier than. That alerts me to the final human situation and makes me really feel extra related to the whole species.

Rubbish & Baggage

John Perry Barlow: I really feel like I’m dwelling in a metaphorical situation. I simply spent the final hour and a half with an previous poet who has spent his complete life in a metaphorical situation, and is about to be actually metaphorical. He mentioned an important factor was to take correct regard of the little issues.

bell hooks: A part of what Buddhism has been for me is taking note of the little issues.

John Perry Barlow: Chop wooden. Carry water.

bell hooks: I bear in mind years in the past once I first met Gary Snyder. I used to be actually younger; I didn’t perceive that in any respect.

John Perry Barlow: With out a actually grounded context, phrases themselves don’t imply something; metaphors don’t imply something. A metaphor has to take part equally within the completely bodily and the actually non secular. A metaphor is type of a path between these two realms, and it’s a nasty bridge that doesn’t have two ends.

bell hooks: Yesterday I used to be interested by the entire concept of genius and inventive individuals, and the notion that in case you create some magical artwork, in some way that exempts you from having to concentrate to the small issues.

John Perry Barlow: An enormous mistake, I think, however a mistake that I make on a regular basis. I discover that I make it extra simply now that, along with being a smear on the geography due to my travels, my thoughts spends a lot of its time in a very disembodied state, inhabiting a social area the place no person has a physique.

bell hooks: Folks have been telling me that as I change into extra of somewhat “star,” I ought to be hiring individuals to take care of the dailyness of my life. However I believe I change into one thing completely different once I don’t attend to the little issues.

John Perry Barlow: I’ve a buddy who used to handle particulars for a senator from Wyoming. She mentioned she could be completely happy to be my assistant on a part-time foundation. I discovered myself resisting this, despite the truth that I’m overwhelmed by issues like calls to the journey agent and selecting up the aspirin on the drug retailer, and all these completely quotidian sorts of considerations.

A few years in the past, I used to be coming into Narita Airport and located myself within the customs line behind Morita, the president of SONY, pushing all of his personal baggage in a cart. Didn’t have some drone pushing his baggage for him. He was pushing his personal baggage. And I assumed, “There’s one thing. You’d by no means see an American captain of trade doing this, and there’s one thing about this that’s basically Buddhist.”

bell hooks: I really feel that particularly when it’s chores I don’t wish to do, like taking out the rubbish or doing my laundry. It’s within the act of getting to do issues that you just don’t wish to that you just be taught one thing about transferring previous the self. Previous the ego.

Demise & Dance

John Perry Barlow: I believe an enlightened thoughts would be capable of expertise the vividness that novelty brings, even in issues that aren’t novel. Thoreau mentioned he’d travelled broadly within the space round Walden Pond. The individuals who used to work on my ranch had by no means been exterior of the state of Wyoming, however they’d gone deeply into it. Whether or not we had been fencing or minding cows, they may clearly understand a deeper stage of element.

I maintain interested by the trendy plague of boredom, which, paradoxically, is related to the final social want to make all the pieces as acquainted as potential, to show all the pieces into McDonald’s land or tv land. And on the identical time individuals are expressing a sense of crushing ennui. I bear in mind one of many few actually Buddhist issues that my very non-Buddhist Wyoming mom mentioned to me once I was little. I’d complain about being bored and he or she’d say, “Anybody who’s bored isn’t paying shut sufficient consideration.”

bell hooks: Whereas my mom in Kentucky at all times used to say, “Life is just not promised,” within the sense that boredom is a luxurious on this world. The place life is at all times fleeting, every second needs to be seized. For us youngsters, that was a lesson in creativeness, as a result of she was at all times urging us to think about the creativeness as that which lets you crack via that area of ennui and get again going.

John Perry Barlow: That was what impressed me most concerning the previous man that I went to see at this time. He’s proper on the sting of dying, and he is aware of that. He’s an intensely non secular man and each time I talked to him earlier than, all he talked about was his recollections of the spirit world from earlier than he was born. Now I requested him if he may see via to the opposite facet, and he mentioned he didn’t wish to take into consideration the opposite facet proper now. It wasn’t a matter of denying it; it was wanting to place himself within the context of life as totally as potential. The moments are so valuable to him now that he’s grabbing each one and savoring it.

bell hooks: I suppose I by no means take into consideration loss of life as an different facet. Life is what’s on the opposite facet; life is what we will’t get again to, as a result of loss of life is definitely what we’re experiencing proper now. Demise is with you on a regular basis; you get deeper in it as you progress in the direction of it, nevertheless it’s not unfamiliar to you. It’s at all times been there, so what turns into unfamiliar to you if you move away from the second is basically life.

John Perry Barlow: You move away from the second into the infinite, the place there aren’t any moments and the place there’s no time. Right here in an embodied state, the physique, like all bodily issues, participates in entropy and all the opposite artifacts of time. There’s a skinny however nonetheless impermeable membrane between the chronological and the timeless that has change into way more actual to me since my lover died a yr in the past. Though I really feel her soul, the absence of her physique seems like an unlimited barrier. The absence of the spoken phrase, the absence of the sound of her voice, or the contact of her pores and skin. All of the issues that solely could be completed by souls with our bodies on them.

bell hooks: I’m wondering if these experiences are a name for us to really feel the spirit extra deeply. I believe quite a bit concerning the phrase, “The candy communion of the holy spirit,” as a result of I believe the holy spirit is a part of what you discovered along with your lover. And that’s a part of what you’ll be able to nonetheless have. Whenever you speak about these tangible losses—the scent of one other particular person, the sound of their voice, their motion—what resides, what stays in eternity, is that spirit that the 2 of you made between you.

John Perry Barlow: However you already know the one time that I really feel involved together with her, actually, is when her spirit briefly borrows another person’s physique to bounce. Just like the second that you just and I had been dancing up in your condo just a few months in the past. And immediately she was in you and I may really feel her there. You stop dancing the best way you danced and began dancing the best way she danced. And it was virtually like a sensible joke that she was taking part in in a means.

bell hooks: Nicely, that’s precisely why they name it spirit possession, since you’re taken over and also you’re not your self, however the different particular person has the second of reunion.

Worry & Religion

John Perry Barlow: It’s solely within the final yr that I’ve been keen to simply accept on something apart from an mental stage that the soul and the physique are separable; that the spirit may go out and in of time and have new our bodies.

bell hooks: Why did you will have that resistance?

John Perry Barlow: As a result of I believed the dominant faith of this tradition, which is science. And in science, solely hypotheses whose outcomes could be reproduced and noticed are credible. Clearly after we discuss concerning the spirit we have now to speak about issues of religion, and after we speak about issues of religion, the shortage of reproducibility is crucial.

bell hooks: One of many guiding problems with my life proper now is considering the distinction between being fear-based and faith-based. After we take into consideration the historical past of science, a lot of it’s rooted on this quest to seek out solutions that may silence worry.

John Perry Barlow: And what has occurred? We now have a society that’s completely sick with worry. That is essentially the most fearful place on the planet. It’s the place the place science is dominant to the exclusion of all different religions. So it hasn’t been an excellent reply up to now. We take little or no solace in our science.

bell hooks: What do you make of these people who find themselves drawn to Buddhism as a result of they see it as a extra “scientific” faith than say, Islam or Christianity.

John Perry Barlow: And why would they are saying that?

bell hooks: I believe as a result of they see it as rational, motive based mostly—the entire notion of trigger and impact and of with the ability to even shift one’s consciousness via respiration. It’s extra concrete in lots of people’s imaginations, extra rational.

John Perry Barlow: However a zen grasp would inform you, I believe, that you just’re not attempting to shift consciousness via respiration; you’re attempting to breathe and that’s all. Possibly that is an American misperception of Buddhism. We’re so causal that we take Buddhism and reculturate it in our personal phrases and inject a type of causality that I don’t assume the Buddha felt.

Should you spend time amongst Buddhists, both in Japan or the place I’ve been in northern India, in their very own context, they don’t perceive causality in any respect. I really discovered myself years in the past on prime of a mountain with a Tibetan lama, identical to a New Yorker cartoon. And he was asking me questions on a regular basis about car mechanics. It was solely afterwards that I spotted that the rationale he was so fascinated with car mechanics is that they’re so causal. , x causes y causes z. That was the supply of his curiosity. I believe that within the western cultures, we reinterpret Buddhism to be extra causal than it’s and we make it purposeful when,in case you pay attention rigorously, plainly what they’re saying is that the aim is its personal objective. The act is adequate unto itself.

bell hooks: I believe that’s why I’ve at all times been drawn to engaged Buddhism and to Thich Nhat Hanh, as a result of there’s a lot emphasis on the dailyness of life and doing what you do with a sure high quality of mindfulness and stillness. You don’t must have an agenda if you get up within the morning, as a result of waking up within the morning is what you’re doing.

John Perry Barlow: These days I began to change into involved that in my frantic dashing world wide I used to be beating again stillness. However on nearer examination, I really feel like I’m the attention of my very own hurricane, and the extra white noise I collect round myself, the extra quiet it’s within the heart.

bell hooks: Nicely, I take into consideration the distinction between you and I usually, since you’re such a man for the street, and I’m such a lady for the lounge. I actually like to remain in my nest and never transfer. I journey in my thoughts, and that that’s a rigorous state of journeying for me. My physique isn’t that keen on transferring from place to put, and for me, stillness is at all times an expertise of getting away from my thoughts. If I can get to sleep with out my thoughts taking me on a journey, I really feel completely happy.

Moms & Forgiveness

bell hooks: For me the shift is away from the concept of affection as a sense to the sense of affection as an motion, love as one thing that I’ve to do quite than one thing that I may get by with simply feeling. I needed to be remodeled in my actions in the direction of others and the world. It actually modified me.

John Perry Barlow: You don’t assume that you just had been at all times like this?

bell hooks: No, like loads of children born into households the place individuals didn’t perceive them and tried to repress them, I believe I used to be wounded in that area the place I’d know love. What saved me was that I had this unimaginable will to know, and the will to know is central to the apply of affection. If I didn’t wish to know John Perry Barlow, if I hadn’t needed to listen to his story, we wouldn’t be on this stoop.

That want to know saved me going and transferring into love, even supposing as a toddler I felt unhappy on a regular basis and there was a type of competitors between grief and love. Alice Miller says that for some youngsters who’re in a disturbed residence surroundings, that may be a place of magic as a lot as it may be a spot of harm. Magic and injury don’t essentially cancel out each other.

John Perry Barlow: Injury strengthens. I spotted just lately that I had loads of motive to be grateful to my mom; my mom is a blame-based particular person.

bell hooks: Mine too. They will need to have recognized one another.

John Perry Barlow: She’s ninety years previous and her thoughts is totally lucid. She will bear in mind each time that anyone screwed up in her neighborhood within the final ninety years. Her guiding perception is that shit is brought about…by someone. One of many issues that I’m most grateful for is that I’m about essentially the most forgiving particular person I do know. Or the most definitely particular person to seek out extenuating circumstance in another person’s habits. She, greater than anybody, taught me the way to forgive by her personal unwillingness to forgive.

bell hooks: It was in search of a path out of blame that led me to Buddhism. I used to be in search of a means out of that complete notion of wrong-doing, blame and punishment. I needed one thing that truly had a promise that one wouldn’t must inhabit the area of blame.

John Perry Barlow: However why didn’t you merely flip to your individual spiritual custom? Why didn’t you take a look at Christian absolution as being adequate?

bell hooks: I’ve by no means given up on the paranormal dimensions of Christianity. I at all times snicker at myself as a result of within the morning I sit zazen, however then I at all times take time to say my Christian prayers on the identical time. It’s like these two traditions have walked with me via my life and I haven’t been capable of simply select one as the precise one for me. I nonetheless really feel just like the sweetness of each of them enhances my life.


John Perry Barlow: What I’ve determined is that ideas and concepts and artworks and all of these apparently immaterial issues are actually life kinds; they’re alive. They usually have all the traits of life kinds. One of many issues that you just discover in case you’re doing animal husbandry is that there’s loads of vigor in hybridization. Should you really need one thing that has vigor and robustness, the most effective factor you are able to do is take two fully completely different gene units and put them collectively. The area between issues has vitality in it, and I believe a part of what you and I’ve going for us is that there’s some area between our externalities the place the potential for informational life to develop up is extremely fecant.

bell hooks: That’s the type of border crossing that in cultural research we name the hybridity of the long run. The long run is in transferring out of the self into one other area, not as a type of tourism, however as a willingness to convey one thing to the opposite scenario. That is concerned with the entire custom of gift-giving world wide. I believe true hybridization is about your taking no matter you must give and mingling it with no matter folks have to present. One path that leads so many individuals to jap thought is that longing to discover a area the place forgiving is sanctioned, and forgiveness can’t occur in case you’re not allowed to imagine within the energy of giving. I believe that the entire realm of capitalism is stifling in us the capability to expertise the present, and the elemental present which we’ve been speaking about is the present of life, the breath.

John Perry Barlow: The issue with capitalism is that it’s based mostly on physics and never biology. It’s based mostly on entropy and never the elemental actuality of life, which creates new complexity and new order and better states of vitality on a regular basis. Look how a lot worth comes into the world out of completely nothing within the realm of knowledge. The method of evolution is just not one among entropy in any respect, however a lot of the financial system is about that extropic course of. I believe that one of the vital useful indicators I see is a motion in financial principle towards the organic.

bell hooks: In journeying from place to put I’ve come to see how little I have to be alive on the earth. There are days once I get up and I really feel overwhelmed by that sense of lust for items and providers, and I remind myself of individuals within the Kalahari desert and of how little it actually takes to maintain ourselves.

John Perry Barlow: I journey with what I can simply carry down a jet concourse at excessive velocity beneath my very own energy. And I by no means miss all these books and information and knick-knacks and issues that fill my life at any time when I’m stationary. I don’t discover myself saying fairly often, “Oh, if solely I had been residence then I’d have this.”

bell hooks: However it’s exactly that type of motion which is a motion into loss of life and dying. A motion that claims I’m actually going to drift free. I’m actually going to be shedding every step of the best way, in order that once I come to that second when I’ve to actually shed, I’m prepared.

John Perry Barlow: I do really feel, as I mentioned at first, like a bodily metaphorical being. I really feel like I’m an apparition even unto myself and definitely unto everyone who is aware of me. However on the identical time, I really feel way more vividly current within the moments that I share with individuals.

bell hooks: Which is, I believe, the deepest solution to settle for loss of life amongst us. That permits us to maneuver into that larger readability, that second of realizing that this actually is the second. I really like the Sutra of Figuring out the Higher Technique to Stay Alone the place it says, “Life is within the current second; to lose the current is to lose life.”

John Perry Barlow: Nicely, what else is there?


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